Crying Rape:

Perpetuating Rape Myths on Beverly Hills, 90210


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Crying Rape: Part Two

Crying Rape: Part Three

Crying Rape: Part Four

Crying Rape: Part Five

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When a television program deals with a serious issue, the way the message is presented and what ideas it sends is something that has to be taken into consideration.  Television often takes its cues from society, and, television’s messages do have an effect on society.  What TV says about certain issues stick, and they are often presented in a way that perpetuates antiquated ideas about our society.  One issue that is sensitive in this area is the issue of rape.  There are many different ways that rape is presented on television (there is even one show that deals with it in nearly every episode – Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), and the ideas that are shown and perpetuated do have an effect on our society. Most teen shows deal with the issue of rape within the first few seasons, but those shows often skirt the issue.  Shows like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill while they will bring up the issue, they will either have a girl who was actually raped who is slightly connected to one of the lead characters, or, if a lead character is the victim, then it will only be attempted rape.  The popular 90’s television show Beverly Hills, 90210 broke that mold, to an extreme degree; it had nine different plots or storylines dealing with rape over the course of its ten year run, and with the except of the first storyline, it always included a lead character as either victim or perpetrator.  This paper will look at six of those nine storylines, and analyze the way they perpetuate antiquated ideas about rape, and what that effect has on our ideas about women and our society.

While there are numerous myths and misconceptions dealing with rape (one website, rapecrisis.org/uk/myths.html lists 24), this paper will focus on six that encapsulated the general ideas of most myths.  The first myth is that rapists are easily identifiable by their language or dress.  In reality, rapists can be anyone.  They often hold a job, are married, and appear perfectly harmless.  There is a major misconception that rapists are weird, creepy loners who can be picked out of a crowd.  The next three myths lay the blame at the victim’s feet.  The second rape myth states that victims ask for it, by the way they dress, talk, act, or where they are.  Regardless of what a person is doing that night, whether they are drinking or flirting, if someone says no, then that’s that.  The third myth is that ‘bad’ girls can’t be raped.  The reputation of the victim is often called into question after an accusation of rape.  Whether someone has had intercourse before is irrelevant, and does not change the fact of forced intercourse.  The fourth myth is that when someone says no, they actually mean yes.  Rape myths, these especially, continue the idea that women are to blame for their own victimization.  The idea that women who tease are asking to be raped and that women don’t have a right to say no is absolutely false.  The fifth myth is that it can’t be rape unless there was a weapon or bruising and cuts.  Regardless of a woman’s physical state after a rape, rape is always a violent crime.  It takes away her control over her life and her sexuality.  The final myth deals with the aftermath and with those close to the victim.  We often see on TV and in movies, where violent crimes are solved by violence – the rape is only over after the rapist has been caught, punished, or killed.  Rape cannot be avenged or solved by violence, and whatever harm comes to the victim doesn’t change the fact that someone was raped.  These myths are perpetuated in the rape storylines on Beverly Hills, 90210, though not every myth is represented in every storyline.

      The show started in 1990, and narrated the life of the Walsh family, specifically fraternal twins Brandon and Brenda, who had just moved from Minnesota and are adjusting to life in Beverly Hills.  The first season of the show was much like other family dramas – an issue is addressed, the problem is assigned to a secondary character, or a new character we’ve never seen before or since, and one of the twins would help to solve it within the hour.  In the second season, the show became more character driven, focusing on the twins’ family and their friends, Andrea, David, Donna, Dylan, Kelly, and Steve.  Characters came and went (at the end of the series, there weren’t any Walshes on the show anymore!) and the show became more plot driven.  It eventually evolved in season 5 to more soap opera-like storylines, with numerous romantic entanglements, drug addictions and various topics being covered multiple times.  One memorable repetition is the nine separate storylines that dealt with rape.  Beverly Hills, 90210 covered several different aspects of the issue, which included acquaintance rape, coercion, incest, statutory rape, date rape drugs and stalkers. 

Though there are nine storylines that deal with rape, this paper will only look at six.  The first rape plotline that won’t be included is from season one, episode nine, “The Gentle Art of Listening.”  Brenda joins the Teen RapLine and accidentally takes a call after hours, which is against the rule.  She’s contacted by a girl who has been raped, and Brenda must admit what she’s done to get her help, especially since the rapes are continuing.  This isn’t included in the paper because the rape isn’t actually shown, and the storyline is more focused on Brenda and her confronting Andrea and these issues than it is about , the cheerleader who’s been raped.  The second storyline is from season one as well, episode 13, “Slumber Party.”  Brenda is having a women’s conference, and Kelly, Donna and Andrea have been invited to sleep over.  Everything is down home goodness and dancing around the living room when Kelly’s bitchy friend Tiffany shows up.  They play “Skeletons in the Closet” and Kelly is in the middle.  Tiffany asks her about her first sexual experience, and after lying, she is taunted into revealing the real first encounter.  A senior named Ross Weber took advantage of a crush she had on him as a freshman, and after a big game, a group goes to party in the woods, where Ross coerces her into sleeping with him.  The worst part, according to Kelly, is that he ‘didn’t even bring a blanket.’  After that night, he never talked to her again, and depending on which season you’re watching, and which guy the show was blaming Kelly’s bad reputation on, he ignored her until their five year high school reunion, or told everyone how easy she was.  This isn’t analyzed in the paper because the rape isn’t shown, and Kelly gave her consent for sexual relations.  Weber just used her, but she did say yes.  The third and final plotline that isn’t included is from season seven.  Valerie reveals her father repeatedly raped her when she was a child.  The show, while at times changing it’s story (did Abby Malone know or not what her husband was doing?), continuously followed up on the progress of Val dealing with her past throughout several seasons – we see her begin to confront these issues with the reemergence of her old boyfriend Tom, and break the news to her mother about the true nature of her relationship with her father.  She must deal with reminders of past rapes when she is raped by Noah in season eight, and then with the new knowledge that her mother knew everything while it was going on, and did nothing to stop it.  She doesn’t deal with her own guilt over her part in her father’s death until season nine, and it seems that she has finally found some peace.  The rapes are not shown, so again it will not be discussed.  However, this storyline is interesting because rape or sexual attacks are often used as a plot device to redeem the picture of the “bad girl.”  Of the six storylines that will be used, two false accusation plots will first be covered, then the two date rape plots, and finally, the two plotlines involving stranger rape.